August 11, 2017

Trials of a Prairie Photographer

By Christopher Gray, Digital Projects Intern

Evelyn Cameron’s photography was born from necessity and love for the art. The Camerons were frequently out of cash, so Evelyn sold vegetables, hosted boarders, and took up photography to supplement what little income they had.

Living on a ranch, Evelyn was no stranger to hard work. Photography in the 1890s and early 20th century was a demanding and tricky endeavor, so adding the business of making photographs to her daily routine would have taken a great deal of energy and motivation.

Though photography was rapidly becoming more accessible to the public, it had not reached the level of efficiency it has today. Evelyn had only what was technologically available in Montana at the turn of the last century. Living on the prairie, her options were further limited to whatever mail-order equipment she could afford. Despite these limitations, Evelyn managed to excel at her work.

Some of the other difficulties she faced included a camera with slow shutter speeds [1] and photographic plates that weren’t very light-sensitive.

Catalog # PAc 90-87.G002-016
“Mary Phillips, May 4th, 1905.”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

For example, this picture, taken with a 5x7 Kodak in 1905, illustrates how Evelyn worked within those technical limits. She wrote her camera settings for this picture in her diary, noting a shutter speed of 1/5 of a second and an aperture of f32—slow shutter, small aperture [2]. These settings were necessitated by the slowness of the plate (about ISO 5 or 10) and Evelyn’s aesthetic preference [3]. She preferred well-defined backgrounds for her pictures, and a small aperture allowed that. 




Slow shutter speeds are no nuisance if the subject is stationary, the camera is mounted on a tripod, and the wind is calm. However, Evelyn’s subjects and the prairie wind were seldom still. 

Catalog #PAc 90-87.G003-002
“Cat sitting in hole in rock. 1900”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron


Cats especially fall into the “seldom still” category. Pet photography is best done with a fast shutter speed, but here Evelyn used a slow shutter speed and a small aperture (perhaps out of habit). That the cat, Patchy, stayed still for this picture seems like a miracle. However, that Patchy appears unblurred in a handful of other photos suggests the cat was a more agreeable model than most. 






Catalog #PAc 90-87.G059-011
“[[Railroad crew on handcar]. 
[Five railroad workers standing on handcar.] [ca. 1910]”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron





This photo of Northern Pacific workmen on a handcar may look ordinary for a moment, but its odd nature soon becomes apparent. Evelyn took two images on the same plate, most likely by accident. Looking closely, it seems she took one picture without the workmen and one with them. Note how the man on the far right looks translucent!











Catalog # PAc 90-87.NB067K
“[Family on parsonage porch, Marsh, Montana]. 
At the Lutheran Church parsonage. July 25, 1920”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron


Finally, some unintentional elements in a photo can actually improve it. This would be a normal, staid family photo were it not for the mischievous young’un peering from behind the screen door. This may have gone unnoticed by Evelyn as she took the picture, but given her sense of humor she probably knew the girl was there and proceeded anyway.







[1] Only until late 1905, when she received a more advanced camera.
[2] Cameron diary, 7 May 1905
[3] Cameron diary, 27 June 1904

August 1, 2017

Remembering Frank Little

by Rich Aarstad, Senior Archivist, and Martha Kohl, Historical Specialist

Slain by capitalist interests for organizing his fellow men
This epithet appears on Frank Little’s headstone in the Mountain View Cemetery of Butte, MT. 

Portrait, Frank Little, 1910s
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University



A top field organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW, or the Wobblies), Frank Little stepped gingerly from the train in Butte on July 20, 1917, still bearing marks of a beating he took while agitating on behalf of striking copper miners in Bisbee, AZ. Life as the Wobblies top field organizer had few perks and more than a bit of personal risk.  Like a prophet from the Old Testament, Frank wandered the West from one labor hotspot to another, preaching the gospel of the One Big Union.  His mission was simple: affiliate the Metal Mine Workers’ Union with the IWW and force the company officials running the Anaconda Company from the sixth floor of the Hennessy Building “’down below with a muckstick.’”




When Little arrived in Butte, the mining city was in the midst of a general strike. Three months earlier, the U.S. had entered World War I. A month earlier, on June 5, miners rioted, protesting the implementation of a compulsory draft. Then, on June 8, a fire in the Granite Mountain/Speculator mine claimed the lives of 165 miners. Workers were demanding safer working conditions and higher wages. The state had responded by sending in troops. Butte was under martial law.

MHS Ephemera File
Neither the Anaconda Company nor the leaders of Metal Mine Workers Union (MMWU) were happy to see Little. The Anaconda Company’s unhappiness was self-explanatory. But Butte’s labor leaders also rejected his radical rhetoric, objecting both to the IWW’s hardline stance against the war and its commitment to overthrowing of the capitalist system.

These inflammatory positions were particularly dangerous since the start of the war. Even IWW president William “Big Bill” Haywood was cautioning his field organizers to lighten up on the rhetoric lest they incur the federal government’s wrath and feel the full weight of its opposition.  But if Frank Little got the message, he chose to ignore it.

Instead, Little passionately preached the IWW message. During a speech at Finlander Hall, Little referred to U.S. soldiers as “uniformed thugs” and stressed his opposition to the draft and the war.  Why, he asked, would workers choose to fight for their capitalist masters, when instead they could end the war by turning on their masters and overthrowing the capitalist system?

The Anaconda Company—delighted to tar labor as treasonous—had its papers report Little’s speeches. It also joined local political leaders in asking U.S. Attorney B. K. Wheeler to arrest Little, claiming that his “treasonous utterances” violated the Espionage Act of 1917. Wheeler refused: according to the attorney, Little had not violated the Espionage Act but had only exercised his right to free speech.

Nevertheless, Little was soon silenced. In the early morning hours of August 1, six men entered the boarding house where Frank Little was staying and physically removed him from his room.  They tied him to the bumper of a waiting car and dragged him to the edge of town where they beat then lynched him from a railroad trestle with a warning pinned to his chest.
 

Frank Little, Death, Missoula, Montana Free Speech Fight, 1917
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University
















In the wake of the brutal murder, Governor Stewart received a flood of messages from across the nation from labor organizations and concerned citizens. The message left on Little’s body harkened back to the vigilante days of early Montana and the initials at the bottom corresponded with the last names of the leaders of the MMWU strike: Frank Little (with the “L” circled), Bill Dunne, Tom Campbell, Daniel Shovlin, Joe Shannon, Jim Williams, and John Tomich.  The use of 3-7-77 legitimized the action in the eyes of some, who believed that if authorities would have arrested Little under the charge of treason reasonable men would not have felt the need to act.  It would also help justify, less than a year, later the passage of the Montana Sedition Act and Criminal Syndicalism Act during a special session of the legislature.


  
Frank Little, Funeral, Montana Free Speech Fight, 1917
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University


The murder of Frank Little remains unsolved even though most agree the Anaconda Company played some role in his death.  While his message for the most part fell on deaf ears, his murder gave rise to an impassioned citizenry who four days later gave Frank Little an epic send off with the largest funeral in the history of Butte.  They laid Frank Little to rest in the pauper section of the Mountain View Cemetery.



Photo courtesy of the author


Today, his headstone faces “the Hill” and standing at the foot of his grave one can see the memorial the North Butte Mining Company erected to the memory of those unidentified miners who died in the Granite Mountain/Speculator Mine fire.  I think Frank would appreciate that.